Assessment 3

Social Media, the Lie of False Intimacy?

Ran Zheng

SID: 460286439

Kai’s Wednesday 5 pm to 8 pm


The old generation would never imagine they could contact and see their oversea relatives instantly through a single click or two strangers in different countries could make friends and become intimate through the social media platforms(SNS). They all come into reality now. Web 2.0 era enables people more connected and exposed in the digital sphere, which leads an always-on lifestyle (Boyd, 2012). According to Miguel (2016), social media with their unique sociability and communication have revolutionized “existing notions and experiences of privacy and intimacy”. Social media has been highly appraised for bridging the relationship among people, enabling to establish cultural intimacy with strangers online and form an intimate public. However, an increasing number of voices has criticized that social media are just a lie of false intimacy (Baer, 2016).

Source: New York Times’s  – “How China is Changing Your Internet” has shown certain social media platforms have combined various functions together to facilitate people’s lives, but whether it is good or bad in terms of public intimacy.

The term Intimate Publics, coined by Berlant (2008), describes people “share a worldview and emotional knowledge that they have derived from a broadly common historical experience”. She also mentioned that “an intimate public is an achievement” which “flourishes as a porous, affective scene of identification among strangers”. The intimate publics are defined into two categories: (1) how users manage their online details to show intimacy on SNS; (2) shared knowledge or special bonds create cultural intimacy (Berlant, 2008). However, the intimate publics discussed here is mainly the notion of cultural intimacy which describes “the recognition of those aspects of a cultural identity that are considered a source of external embarrassment but that nevertheless provide insiders with their assurance of common sociality” (Kertzer, 1997).

Talking about the intimate publics on SNS, it also refers to both the old acquaintances and the newly-established relationships. Khoja-Moolji (2015) also concludes that public intimacy exerts dual influences. The first is that an “affective tie” bonds strangers to communicate, and the second influence is these strangers could share their views on the social media about the common topic. However, the evolution of social media gives rise to the privacy issue because the boundary between private and public, online and offline has blurred due to the breakdown of space and time barriers (Hjorth, & Lim, 2012).


On the one hand, social media break down temporal and geographic barriers, building long-distance connection among family members and friends (Hinton, & Hjorth, 2013). What is more, the SNS constructs virtual social worlds where people could jump from their certain friend circles and find other like-minded people to create an intimate publics and cultural intimacy (Berlant, 1998).

According to Baym (2012), social media has shortened the distance and enabled interaction and connection between celebrities and their fans by online establishing fan communities and fandoms. Musicians and actors can hear fans’ voices so as to increase intimacy and consolidate fan base through SNS’s and the vice versa.

The most prevalent SNS to increase intimacy now is Live Streams, such as Periscope, Meerkat and Twitch. This kind of platforms has thrived into a brand new online interactive platform, following community-based Facebook, short-update-based Twitter and picture-sharing-based Instagram (David, 2010). It provides opportunities for both ordinary people and celebrities to attract people with same interests and form intimate publics.


Source: Google Image – Meerkat is the most popular live streaming app.

However, are people’s craving for human connection really satisfied by social media? It is undeniable that social media have made people’s life more connected but there is a darker side. SNS, to some extent, makes people estranged from each other and the online intimacy is a lie.

In 1996, when Sherry Turkle gave her first TEDTalk, she celebrated our life on the Internet; nevertheless, in 2012, she gave another speech on the same stage named “Connected, but alone”, saying today’s social networking is eroding our ability to live comfortably offline (Turkle, 2012). She said SNS tenders to give us illusions that we would be paid close attention and be heard at any circumstances which make people compare to others all the time and become less happy.     In her book, “Alone Together”, says online users hide from each other even though people consistently connected with each other.

Basically, the current social media are not all as people have imaged – bringing everyone closer. As Baer (2016) puts it, social media actually drive people further apart and the more people we know, the less we understand each of them. Berlant (2008) also mentions that intimacy is not a private activity anymore but have a nature of performativity in the public sphere. In other words, users’ online presences are what they want to show to the audiences.

Baer (2016) argues that social media is a big energy sucker and a big time waster where people build their own intimate publics with only shallow connections at the expense of the cherished friendships which they can truly rely on. It is not uncommon to see a group of people in a café chatting with friends online or doing digital interactions instead of focusing on face-to-face connection next to them.

Friends gathering but people addict to their own phones

Source: Unsplash – People sitting in the cafe with friends but addicting in the digital world.

According to Cristina (2016), online SNS users sometimes protect themselves from potential harm and privacy disclosure by lying about their online profiles. This unintentional fraud may be detrimental to existing digital intimacy.

Moreover, social media also affect how kids define friendship and intimacy, according to the research Teens, Social Media, and Privacy. The research reveals that many youngsters now immerse in the digital world and gain personal support from “likes” and people’s responses to their posting. This phenomenon, in the long run, does harm to the physical communication. This is the reason why many families now restrict children’s mobile media use to maintain family harmony and intimacy (Kertzer, 1997).

Digital communication itself is not a bad thing but if we sacrifice daily connection with people as well as we can, that is the real problem.


Considering our Con’s campaign, several approaches have been adopted to increase intimacy with audiences and gain a broader social media exposure. Amateur players have been targeted as the secondary audience by considering creating the cultural intimacy with who have the potential interest in music. In this case, these audiences may post their own performances on the social media. The proposed campaign is to be conducted in the season of love – Spring so the two special hashtags #datewithcon and #becharmwithmusic are aimed to encourage young people to invite their beloved ones to the Con through social media with our hashtags, which could increase both online and offline intimacy. Besides, our weekly movie-leaded discussion and monthly music pop-up are also designed with the same purpose.


It is true that intimate publics in the digital world enables audiences to strengthen pre-established relationships and generate new types of social interactions (Cristina, 2016). On the other hand, looking at disadvantages of intimate publics on social media gives people a lens to reflect on themselves in this digital age. The best position to locate ourselves in the social public sphere in terms of digital intimacy is to obtain what Turkle (2012) mentions “The Goldilocks Effect”; that is to maintain the relationship “Not too close, Not too far, Just right” with social media. Moreover, it is better to comprehend intimacy practices, grasp the extent of exposing intimacy on social media and pay attention to the issue of online privacy (Cristina, 2016).




Baer, J. (2016). Social Media, Pretend Friends, and the Lie of False IntimacyConvince and Convert: Social Media Consulting and Content Marketing Consulting. Retrieved 27 April 2017, from

Baym, N. (2012). Fans or Friends?: Seeing social media audiences as musicians do. Journal of Audience and Reception Studies2(9), 286-310.

Berlant, L. (1998). Intimacy: A Special Issue. Critical Inquiry24(2), 281-288.

Berlant, L. (2008). The female complaint: the unfinished business of sentimentality in American culture (1st ed.). Durham: Duke University Press.

Boyd, D. (2012). Participating in the always-on lifestyle. The social media reader, 71-76.

Cristina, M. (2016). Intimacy in the Age of Social Media. PD ThesisThe University of Leeds.

David, G. (2010). Camera phone images, videos and live streaming: a contemporary visual trend. Visual Studies25(1), 89-98.

Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding social media (1st ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

Hjorth, L., & Lim, S. (2012). Mobile intimacy in an age of affective mobile media. Feminist Media Studies12(4), 477-484.

Kaplan, A., & Haenlein, M. (2010). Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media. Business Horizons53(1), 59-68.

Kertzer, D. (1997). Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State: Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State. American Anthropologist99(4), 863-863.

Khoja-Moolji, S. (2015). Becoming an “intimate publics”: Exploring the affective intensities of hashtag feminism. Feminist Media Studies15(2), 347-350.

Miguel, C. (2016). Visual Intimacy on Social Media: From Selfies to the Co-Construction of Intimacies Through Shared Pictures. Social Media + Society2(2).

Mozur, P. (2016). Chinese Tech Firms Forced to Choose Market: Home or Everywhere Retrieved 26 April 2017, from

Turkle, S. (2012). Transcript of “Connected, but alone?” Retrieved 28 April 2017, from

Turkle, S. (2013). Alone together (1st ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Books.



One thought on “Social Media, the Lie of False Intimacy?

  1. I agree with in many extents with you Ran. You touched on important things which are challenging our relationship today. Intimacy or relationship is one of the basic needs of human being. Today’s interconnected world digital intimacy is an inevitable part of our life. There have many benefits in digital intimacy but there are the same amount of drawbacks.
    Introducing social network was an amazing breakthrough in human communication. As Hinton and Hjorth social media broke down spatiotemporal barriers which were the most difficult obstacles of communication with our beloved ones. It enables long-distance connection among family members and friends. But it sucks energy and time, finally creates self-unconfidence.
    Social media changes our relationship and lifestyle in several ways. First, it is allowing us to connect with people more rapidly, which is a good thing. We are able to connect everyone whom we want to reach if he or she has a social network account.

    Second, social media forwards comparing ourselves with others. Its negative effects overweight than positive ones.
    Moreover, it has powerful effects such as adopting attitudes, behavior, and beliefs from the community within the social network. It has also negative and positive effects. Therefore, as a social network user and netizin, we need to be aware maintain a balance between online and offline life. Personally, I have made friendships through social media. However, it is always better and more lively to make coffee dates or hangouts with my friends which are face to face communication


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